House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) today wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking for clarification regarding the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOPs) online enrollment timetable, and to express concern about the narrow timetable for small businesses to act. Recent comments from Obama administration officials have added more confusion as to when small businesses can begin enrolling in the program, and a rushed process could give small businesses only about two weeks to decide and register for plans.
Graves wrote in the letter, “…a September 26, 2013 Department of Health and Human Services press release promised that ‘[A]ll functions for SHOP will be available in November and employers and employees enrolled by December 15, 2013, coverage will begin Jan. 1, 2014. And, most recently, before the House Ways and Means Committee on October 29, 2013, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner was asked if the SHOP website for small businesses that was delayed would be fully functional during November. Administrator Tavenner responded, ‘Yes, we will institute the SHOP component at the end of November,’ signaling a further delay. But on September 26, 2013, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney clarified in a press briefing that “…[small businesses] will be able to enroll, if you will, for these programs beginning November 1st.”
With regard to the narrow timetable for small businesses to enroll, Graves continued, “However, if the SHOPS will not be operating until November 30, 2013, and, as Administrator Tavenner testified, small business owners must enroll by December 15, 2013 for policies to be effective on January 1, 2014, that leaves precious little time – a mere 16 days -- for an already busy and burdened small business owner to learn about various insurance plans and make a decision so that they have coverage in place on January 1. The situation may be even more urgent for employers who are being informed that their current policies are being cancelled due to the law’s requirements. The numerous and well-publicized website problems that are reportedly causing consumers, including small business owners, to be ‘timed out’ of website sessions, blocked from even creating an account that may allow them to learn about and compare plans and premiums, will cause this process to be even more difficult.”
Through the Committee’s interactive website, Small Biz Open Mic, a small business described the impact of a confusing enrollment timetable. On October 22, Nancy Williams, of Harkness Industries in Cheshire, CT said, “The delays in getting rates to employers will mean that we don't have enough time to make a well-considered decision on what to offer (if anything) to our employees. I spend more time on insurance issues than I do on running my business. How is this better for anyone?”
This latest confusion adds to a list of problems and perplexing changes for the SHOPs. Many of the issues were predicted months ago. In June, a GAO report requested by Chairman Graves confirmed the administration was ill-equipped for the implementation of the SHOPs, showing potential for “implementation challenges going forward.”
To read the full letter, click HERE.